Many adults still vividly recall their time at summer camp: canoeing, arts & crafts, field day and all of the social aspects that make summer camp such an unforgettable experience. Unfortunately, these enriching programs are often reserved for middle to upper class students, as many low-income students are unable to participate due to high cost, family obligations, lack of knowledge of high quality programs or other barriers.
When students are unable to access summer learning opportunities, they lose out on much more than fun. Researchers from John Hopkins estimate that roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap between low-income and higher-income students in the ninth grade is a result of unequal access to summer learning opportunities during elementary school. Low-income students lose an average of more than two months of reading achievement, while middle and high-income students actually improve their reading skills over the summer, according to the same study. This lost time contributes to the lower high school graduation rates among low-income students, which in turn sets many children up for lifetimes of economic hardship. Additionally, summer learning opportunities have been linked to increases in self-esteem, self-confidence and motivation, meaning low-income students have fewer opportunities to develop these crucial soft skills.
Central Texas educators are doing their part to work to close this gap. In Austin, there are currently 64 summer programs hosted by 60 different organizations dedicated to expanding access to summer learning opportunities. These programs have enrolled over 32,000 youth and represent the combined efforts of school districts, the City of Austin, community-based and national organizations. This collaborative approach to the problem of summer learning loss ensures that low-income students have a broader variety of options to stay active, build skills and develop their interests when June rolls around. Strategic community partnerships for summer learning also means programs are able to combine resources to get the most out of every dollar, refine best practices and reach a wider network of students and families.
Along with the rest of the Central Texas community, UWATX is committed to closing the summer learning gap. In partnership with Boys & Girls Club of the Austin Area, Manor ISD, ACE-Austin, Camp Fire and Creative Action, our Target Graduation program organizes and runs two six-week, full-day summer camps at Decker and Mendez Middle Schools. These programs are tailored to meet the social-emotional and academic needs of students, and help to ensure that they return to school ready to learn and on equal footing with their more privileged peers. The students experience a variety of activities at these camps, including field trips to local organizations, STEM activities, volunteer activities, nutrition classes and career coaching.